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Big-Name Musicians Will Teach, Perform, Thanks to $25,000 Grant

New Foundation Award Supports Rockford Music Program

World-class musicians will work with Rockford High School student musicians — and give public performances — under a $25,000 grant awarded by the Rockford Education Foundation.

The first-of-its-kind award will enable the high school choral and instrumental programs to bring in top-flight professionals to conduct master classes. The visiting artists also will perform in concert, the ticket sales from which will fund future artists.

Foundation officials announced the grant recently in a surprise visit to the high school choir room, where choral director Mandy Mikita Scott and her husband, Jed, director of the Rockford Aces male ensemble, received the news with delight. Band director Brian Phillips and Freshman Center choir teacher Renee Vande Wege also applied for the grant along with the Scotts.

“I’m excited to be able to bring in the caliber of groups that we as the band or choir couldn’t afford to on our own, and especially to enable our students to interact with them,” said Jed Scott, who originated the grant concept. “Our students can learn so much from hearing from people who actually do this for a living.”

The music directors have in mind big names to invite, such as trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the Canadian Brass and vocal groups such as Chanticleer and Pentatonix. Funds generated by their concerts could support the program for years, Mandy Mikita Scott said.

“If you have a gift of $25,000, use it wisely and use your smarts, it could be decades worth of experiences for these kids and the community,” she said.

Aiming High for Foundation Anniversary

For the Rockford Education Foundation, the award is the first of a new Founders’ Grant, dedicated to honoring those who organized the foundation in 1991. The nonprofit distributes large and small grants not only to Rockford Public Schools, but to groups such as Rockford Community Services for the educational benefit of all ages.

The foundation awarded $1 million over its first 20 years. With the annual Founders’ Grant far exceeding previous grant ceilings of $5,000 and $500, the foundation hopes to reach $2 million in grants by its 30th anniversary in 2021.

Awarding the first recipient was a “tough process,” said Executive Director Jill Silverman. The music program proposal was seen as the most innovative, with its collaboration among departments and bringing “real-world experience of the master class into the classroom,” she said. “This was a first-of-its-kind program in the Rockford community.”

Added foundation chairwoman Beth Dornan, “This literally will impact student musicians in Rockford for years to come.” 


Rockford Education Foundation

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.


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